Friday, January 11, 2008

Fullbore Friday

What does it take to get a Navy Cross - in WWII? And what, my not so gentle readers, do you think when someone tells you, "We don't train for that because that will never happen. We have Sailors, not Marines. That isn't IAW the CONOPS anyway, and with technology - well, your scenario is just stilly."

Ahem. Tell that to the men of the USS BUCKLEY (DE-51) and U-66.
On 6 May 1944, USS Buckley DE 51 engaged U-66 in an Epic Battle that included hand-to-hand combat.

0322 - Range 500 yards. The gun flashes were blinding and deafening, an earsplitting roar. The blasts of the 3", 40mm and 20mm blended into something unreal, as though all the demons of hell had been released simultaneously. Above the roar, the shouts of gun captains exhorted their crews to load and reload ever faster and faster. Blood was drawn. The quarry was at bay. The hunter was out to kill and to keep from being killed. The U-66 was buried under a hail of withering point blank fire.

0328 - The u-boat was 20 yards to starboard, zigzagging violently at 19 knots. Skipper Abel had to make a decision, one that could cost him his ship, his crew, his life. The U-boat was badly hurt. Buckley might have stood off and pounded it to bits. But, supposing the sub did aim a torpedo into Buckley and get away to be repaired and fight again? Buckley was expendable; transatlantic shipping was not. A DE captain had to know what to do at a time of decision. He decided to ram the U-boat!

0329 - "Right full rudder!"
Hundreds of tons of steel clashed, twisted and ripped as Buckley rode up on the foc's'l of U-66!

Then there occurred one of the most remarkable incidents of the Atlantic War as attributable to an extraordinary courage on the part of the enemy as to the valor of the Buckley crew. Men began swarming out of the conning tower and forward hatch of the submarine and up onto the foc's'l of Buckley. Because the sub was now below the maximum depression of the DE's guns, a bitter fight had suddenly become man-to-man for the possession of Buckley!

The Buckley crew rallied quickly and found their enemy with objects, fists and guns. Still the enemy persisted in boarding. Captain Abel had to make another decision. Engines were reversed as Buckley backed away from the sub. "All engines ahead full!" Guns crews returned to their stations pouring a living hell of fire into U-66. Alongside the U-boat to starboard, range 25 yards, Captain Abel fully intended to ram again, but he didn't. The sub rammed the DE! U-66 veered sharply to port and struck under the after engine room of Buckley. The shaft and propeller were sheared clean off. The Buckley's deck crew could look right into the conning tower which as a flaming shambles.

With a twisting, scraping and groaning of steel plates, the sub drew aft and cleared under Buckley's stern. She popped up right under number three 3" guns which scored three hits on the conning tower.

U-66 rode under the sea to her end.

For the next three hours, Buckley steamed about the area and recovered thirty-six prisoners, including four officers.

Miraculously, there were no casualties on board the Buckley. With her starboard shaft gone, flooded compartments and widespread damage, Buckley proceeded to the New York Navy Shipyard, a trip which she made on her port screw without incident.
And the Navy Cross citation for their CO, LCDR BRENT MAXWELL ABEL, USNR.
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Brent Maxwell Abel, Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Destroyer Escort U.S.S. BUCKLEY (DE-51), in offensive action against a German submarine during while patrolling the Atlantic Coast on the early morning of 6 May 1944. Lieutenant Commander Abel expertly directed his command and made an undetected, high-speed approach in bright moonlight to a surfaced German U-boat. With skilled seamanship, he silenced its guns within four minutes after contact, despite a heavy barrage of enemy torpedo and automatic weapon fire. Narrowly escaping another torpedo, he then closed on the wildly maneuvering submarine, raked it with all available fire and rammed, with the enemy attempting to board the vessel in retaliation. Withstanding the desperate attacks of the enemy ship, which tried to ram after the combatants became disengaged, he persistently held to his target until the submarine, with its conning tower shattered and burning fiercely, all hatches open, abandoned by its crew and completely out of control, disappeared beneath the surface of the water and exploded. His conduct throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Navy of the United States.
A good blow-by-blow account can be found here - one with a line that would make LT Black walk funny for a week.
"Hard right rudder!" he roared. "Pass the word to stand by for ram!"

Buckley heeled. Abel shot a glance at the exec.

"Okay, break out the small arms - let's go!"
In a day where the national "elite" hide from service like cockroaches from the light, you know what Buckley did before the war? He was a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law and left his practice at the outbreak of WWII. Skipper Abel passed away the day before Christmas, 2006. Cheers Shipmate.

Hat tip Perry.

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